In Defense of an Ethics Code: Chairman of the Associated Press Managing Editors Ethics Committee Defends Proposed Code against Charges That It Could Provide Ammunition for Libel Suits

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Chairman of the Associated Press Managing Editors ethics ommittee defends proposed code against charges that it could provide ammunition for libel suits

THE CHAIRMAN OF the Associated Press Managing Editors ethics committee defended the group's proposed ethics code against charges that it could provide ammunition for libel suits.

David Hawpe, who is vice president and editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal said the proposed code was designed as a guide for newspapers to develop their own codes.

He said the 4/2-page proposal aggressively attempts to help editors deal with ethical dilemmas posed by such developments as computerized photo manipulation, rising advertising pressures and minority affairs.

The detailed ethics guide would replace a one-page code, adopted in 1975, that is so general that Hawpe called it "a series of platitudes."

Critics have said the details are the devil in the proposed code, which is so specific that it could serve as a how-to guide for suing newspapers.

Richard Winfield, an attorney for the Associated Press and a contributor to E&P, called the proposed code naive, dangerous" and said it will bring far more harm than good.

The more specifically a code defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior, he said, the more "hooks and advantages" plaintiffs' attorneys have to show "journalistic malpractice'

In an interview, Hawpe disagreed.

"I already have a code, and 40% of newspapers have more detailed written guidelines, and that has not laid us open to legal attack"' he said. "That has not eviscerated our journalism."

Quite the contrary, he said, codes spelling out unacceptable practices are needed.

Because he has responsibility for more than 200 journalists at the Courier-Journal, "it is absolutely incumbent on me to offer guidance on what is expected," Hawpe said. "I think it would be fairly irresponsible not to have some fairly specific set of guidelines at a newspaper."

That paper's code, reputed to be among the nation's most strict, covers

The APME began the ethics code rewrite after a poll of members last year found that ethics problems troubled most editors. …